Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Tragic Human Tug-of-Rope

In one of those incidents that seem so absurd that mark so many human rights violation, a Sudanese refugee was the rope in a "tug-of-war" between an Egyptian and Israeli soldier on Aug. 2. The refugee was attempting to cross the border fence into Israel, an example of just how desperate the situation has gotten for Sudanese in Egypt. Unfortunately, the Egyptian soldier won the contest, and the refugee is believed to be one of four Sudanese who were killed by Egyptian soldiers on that day.

Here's Amnesty's statement on the case:

The lives of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who daily try to cross the border from Egypt into Israel, may be in danger, following the use of excessive force by law enforcement officials in the area. This follows the reported death of two men believed to be of Sudanese origin, who were allegedly shot dead by Egyptian security forces as they attempted to cross the border during the night of 1 August 2007.

Egyptian official sources have denied that the shootings took place, although they have confirmed that two men were arrested by the Egyptian border police on 2 August, one of whom is said to be seriously injured. Amnesty International is concerned that Egypt and Israel may be sending law enforcement officials to the area who do not have the necessary training for dealing with crowd-control situations, thus putting the lives of more migrants, refugees and asylum seekers at risk.

Excessive use of force by the Egyptian security forces has increased over the last few weeks. Prior to this incident, a Sudanese woman died on 22 July 2007, after allegedly being shot by Egyptian security forces while she was attempting to cross the border with Israel. Other Sudanese, including an 11-year old girl, and a woman from the Ivory Coast were also injured at the scene. Twenty-two others from Sudan, Ivory Coast and Eritrea were also arrested by the Egyptian authorities.

Thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who mostly come from Sudan and Eritrea as well as other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, try to cross from Egypt to Israel each year. Their numbers have been increasing in recent months and according to the Israeli Minister of Interior Roni Bar-On some 300 try to cross into Israel every week. Hundreds more are believed to be preparing to try to cross the same border.

Amnesty is calling for people to contact the Egyptian Embassy and President Mubarak. We want them to assure us that they will meet their international obligations to protect the lives of migrants and not use unneccessary force. We also want them to conduct an impartial and independent investigation of these alleged killings.

Here's Mubarak's address -- his e-mail account most recently isn't working again --

His Excellency Mohammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
'Abedine Palace

Fax: +20223901998

The Egyptian embassy can be reached at 202.895.5400

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Message to President Mubarak: MB Trials Must be Open

Amnesty International announced today that it has written to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, urging him to ensure that independent observers are permitted access to the trial of 40 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, scheduled to resume before the Supreme Military Court in Cairo on Sunday.

The organization made this call following two earlier trial hearings when legal observers sent by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations were barred from entering the court.

"We look to President Mubarak, as Egypt's highest authority, to open the doors to this important trial," said Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan. "He should clear the way for it to receive the scrutiny it deserves."

Amnesty International's trial observer, Jordanian lawyer Samieh Khreis, was previously among a number of international and Egyptian legal observers who were turned away by security officials when they attempted to enter the Supreme Military Court during its last session on 15 July. Observers were also turned away when they attempted to attend a previous session of the trial on 3 June 2007.

Egyptian authorities have given no explanation to date for their refusal to allow independent observers to attend the trial, adding to concerns about its fairness.

The 40 defendants facing trial on 5 August 2007 include leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who face charges of terrorism and money-laundering that could incur the death penalty.

All are being tried before a military court on the express instructions of President Mubarak -- using powers under a 1966 law -- although none hold any position within Egypt's armed forces.

Seventeen of the 40 were previously tried but acquitted on the same charges by a Cairo criminal court.

"We unreservedly oppose the Egyptian government's use of military courts to try civilians," said Irene Khan.

"In Egypt's military courts judges are serving members of the armed forces and military courts cannot be seen as independent and impartial tribunals for civilians. Their use for highly-charged political cases -- such as the current trial of leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood -- suggests that the defendants may be denied a fair trial."

"The fact that the government has so far denied international observers access to the court only exacerbates our grave concerns." Ms Khan said

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Death Sentences after Unfair Trials

Three Egyptian men are facing a death sentences after being convicted of involvement in the 2004 Taba bombings in which at least 34 people were killed and many more injured. Amnesty International doesn't know if Muhammed Gayiz Sabbah, Usama ‘Abd al-Ghani
al-Nakhlawi and Yunis Muhammed Abu Gareer were involved in the bombings. It does, however, know that they face execution after an unfair trial before a special court and that their convictions are based on “confessions” extracted under torture. If the Egyptian state does execute these men, it will have arbitrarily deprived them of their right to life and violated international law.

Why does Amnesty International get involved in these cases? Because these men were condemned after unfair proceedings; tortured; denied justice by State of Emergency provisions; and because the death penalty is the ultimate in the denial of the right to life and cruel and unusual punishment. These are the core human rights violations in Egypt -- they affect not just people accused of crimes against the nation's security, but against all Egyptian citizens. We can not attack human rights violations and be blind to those abuses that occur, according to the state, in the name of national security.

Please write to the Egyptian authorities calling on them
 Halt the executions of Muhammed Gayiz Sabbah, Usama ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nakhlawi and Yunis
Muhammed Abu Gareer, who were sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial.
 Ensure that all those convicted in this case are retried before an ordinary criminal court in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards, including the right to appeal.
 Order a thorough and impartial investigation into all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, bring to justice those responsible for any abuses, and give full
reparation to the victims.
 Commute all death sentences and announce a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolition.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ayman Nour, suffering in prison

Ayman Nour is in prison, but he's not been forgotten. Unfortunately, conditions appear to be getting worse for him.

The former presidential candidate who was convicted on what many human rights and democracy activists believe to be patently phony charges related to his political party, was allegedly assaulted in court by prison guards, his wife said in May. She has sent out several post-assault photos of him -- one is left. Other images can be found here. There are questions about whether he will survive his jail term, although a state-controlled medical board recently ruled he was healthy enough to fulfill the full sentence.

Egyptian democracy continues to get beaten. It is resilient, there is reason for hope. But Ayman Nour and his wife Gameela need our support. It's easier to remain strong and resilient when you know you are not alone.

The Reuters story here details Nour's allegations. The former leader of the Ghad (Tomorrow) Party suffers from a number of ailments, including irregular heartbeats.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Egyptians are voting; Where is Amr Tharwat?

Shura legislative council elections began today throughout Egypt, with the elections already marred by violence, a crackdown on the Muslim Brothers, and the disappearance of Amr Tharwat and others.

It's an ugly scene. The first priority should be to find where is Amr Tharwat and the others arrested with him. To repeat, the four arrested and their ages are Adellatif Mohamed Saied, aged 40; Ahmed Dahmash, 30; Abdelhamed Abdelrahman, 26, and Amr Tharwat, aged 25. No legal charges have been brought against any of them. Prison authorities continue to deny that they are being held. I talked with colleagues in Egypt today who informed me that every day they try a new prison and they are always turned away. Very simply, for more than a week now, the four have been disappeared.

The four are members of a Islamist religious group set up by Tharwat's uncle. The group's aim is to counter the influence of violent Islamists. Group members say that although their group is peaceful, they have faced both threats from armed Islamist groups and the government. Like much of civil society, the group is caught in the middle of two bodies each eager to wipe out any vital center.

Please contact the Egyptian embassy about the case and ask that the four either be released or publicly charged with a recognizably criminal charge. You can call the embassy at (202)895-5400.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

America, Egypt, Italy and the Kidnapping Business

The Middle East Times begins its report today with the line "America is in the kidnapping business." The line has shock value, but it's accuracy is getting harder to deny. All of this unfortunately is making the work of human rights activists in Egypt more difficult.

Three different events occurred this week to bring the kidnapping business into light. One, Amnesty International and a number of other HR organizations issued a joint statement citing evidence that 39 people had been "disappeared" by the CIA. It's not just terror suspects. Our documentation indicates that suspects' relatives, including wives and children as young as seven, have been held in secret detention.

Second, in Italy this week, a number of Italian intelligence agents and 26 CIA agents went on trial for the kidnapping of Egyptian national Abu Omar. Omar was taken to Egypt, held in detention for almost four years and tortured on several occasions before being released. Here's the BBC report on the first day of the trial.

Finally, today the European Union released its report on CIA jails in Europe. Investigators uncovered proof that jails in Poland and Romania held secret detainees outside of the legal system. Here's Amnesty's reponse to the report.

Together, the picture is painted of a system where individuals, both suspect and innocent, are subject to kidnapping and secret detention with no access to legal rights or to anyone outside of the prison for that fact. It's a system that has been tried in many places before, such as Egypt, and frankly I don't believe it's been all that effective, or at least any more effective than traditional and standard legal techniques. What is clear is that when it comes time to taking a stand against torture, against illegal and prolonged detention and against secret trials, a country that builds the system as described in these three reports doesn't have much credibility... or effectiveness.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

More on Election Arrests

The Egyptian government is arresting opponents prior to the shura elections, and it is arresting them in large numbers and with impunity. It calls for outrage.

Yesterday, I wrote about the attack on Muslim Brothers; today comes information about related arrests. The information comes from Mr. Saad Ibrahim, director of the well-known Ibn Khaldun Center, which has promoted human rights and democratic development in Egypt for years. He himself is a former prisoner of conscience. This time one of the arrestees involves a staff member at the center. The concerns are even greater because Saad has attempted to get information and contact the detainee without success for a week now.

Here's what Saad has to say:

"On Wednesday May 30th, Amr Tharwat an Ibn Khaldun employee, was arrested by Egyptian State Security at his families' residence in Matereya. Mr. Tharwat was the major organizer of the recent Shura Election monitoring as well as the Ibn Khaldun public opinion polling that was carried out earlier this year. In addition to Mr. Tharwat, the Egyptian authorities arrested four other people staying at the house of Dr. Ahmed Sobhy (Adellatif Mohamed Saied, Ahmed Dahmash, Abdelhamed Abdelrahman, Ahmed El Sayed, Amr Tharwat) and confiscated files, books, and computers that were found on the premises.

"Those arrested were originally taken to the Shubra El Khima police station, but in the seven days since their arrest nothing has been heard regarding there whereabouts or the nature of the charges filed against them. Several human rights organizations as well as the team of lawyers working on this case have made repeated requests to the Egyptian government regarding this issue and have received no response until now.

Some speculate that the group was arrested due to their involvement in the religious "Quranic" movement which stresses the importance of the Quran over the Sunna and Hadith. A website was recently constructed for the movement which has gained notoriety for criticizing fatwas issued by Al Azhar authorities. "

Please express your outrage to Ambassador Nabil Fahmy at the Egyptian embassy. The number is 202.895.5400. The e-mail address is Embassy@egyptembassy.net, but we've found in the past that when large numbers of protests are sent to the embassy, the e-mail stops working.

Also please contact the U.S. Secretary of State urging her to press the Egyptian government to stop the harassment of political opponents and democratic activists in the run-up to the shura elections. Secretary Rice can be reached by phone at 202-647-4000 e-mail here.

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